AP News in Brief at 4:58 a.m. EST

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Associated Press

Posted on January 23, 2013 at 6:02 AM

Updated Wednesday, Jan 23 at 7:00 AM

House Republicans seek to defuse debt crisis with vote on 3-month increase in borrowing limit

WASHINGTON (AP) — With tacit support from President Barack Obama, House Republicans are moving to try to defuse a potential debt crisis with legislation to prevent an economy-rattling fiscal crisis for at least three months.

The GOP legislation marks a tactical retreat by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who is eager to avoid a potential first-ever default on U.S. payment and debt obligations as he wrestles with Obama and his Democratic allies over taxes, spending and the deficit.

Wednesday's legislation would give the government enough borrowing leeway to meet three months' worth of obligations, delaying a showdown next month that Republicans fear they would lose.

It also contains a provision that slaps at the Senate, which hasn't debated a budget since 2009, by withholding the pay for either House or Senate members if the chamber in which they serve fails to pass a budget plan.

This "no budget, no pay" idea had previously been regarded by many as a gimmick but has been given new life by Boehner as a "reform" to pair with an increase in the so-called debt limit. Boehner previously had insisted that any increase in borrowing authority to avoid lapses in payments to contractors, unemployment benefits or Social Security checks — and possibly even interest payments on U.S. Treasury obligations — be matched dollar for dollar with spending cuts.

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Clinton to face tough questions from Congress on assault in Libya

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton faces tough questions in her long-awaited congressional testimony concerning the assault on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

Clinton is the sole witness Wednesday at back-to-back hearings before the Senate and House foreign policy panels on the September raid, an independent panel's review that harshly criticized the State Department and the steps the Obama administration is taking to beef up security at U.S. facilities worldwide.

Clinton had been scheduled to testify before Congress last month, but an illness, a concussion and a blood clot near her brain forced her to postpone her appearance.

Her marathon day on Capitol Hill will probably be her last in Congress before she steps down as secretary of state. President Barack Obama has nominated Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., to succeed her, and his swift Senate confirmation is widely expected. Kerry's confirmation hearing is scheduled for Thursday.

Clinton's testimony will focus on the attack after more than three months of Republican charges that the Obama administration ignored signs of a deteriorating security situation in Libya and cast an act of terrorism as mere protests over an anti-Muslim video in the heat of a presidential election. Washington officials suspect that militants linked to al-Qaida carried out the attack.

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Israeli PM Netanyahu scrambles to keep his job after election produces stunning deadlock

JERUSALEM (AP) — A badly weakened Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scrambled Wednesday to keep his job by reaching out to a new centrist party that advocates a more earnest push on peacemaking with the Palestinians after Israel's parliamentary election produced a stunning deadlock.

The results defied forecasts that Israel's next government would veer sharply to the right at a time when the country faces mounting international isolation, growing economic problems and regional turbulence. While that opens the door to unexpected movement on peace efforts, a coalition joining parties with dramatically divergent views on peacemaking, the economy and the military draft could just as easily be headed for gridlock — and perhaps a short life.

Israeli media said that with 99.8 percent of votes counted, each bloc had 60 of parliament's 120 seats. Commentators said Netanyahu, who called early elections three months ago expecting easy victory, would be tapped to form the next government because the rival camp drew 12 of its 60 seats from Arab parties that traditionally are excluded from coalition building.

A surprising strong showing by a political newcomer, the centrist Yesh Atid, or There is a Future, party, in Tuesday's vote turned pre-election forecasts on their heads and dealt a setback to Netanyahu. Yesh Atid's leader, Yair Lapid, has said he would only join a government committed to sweeping economic changes and a serious push to resume peace talks with the Palestinians, which have languished throughout Netanyahu's four-year tenure.

The results were not official, and there was a slim chance of a slight shift in the final bloc breakdowns and a possibility that Netanyahu would not form the next government, even though both he and Lapid have called for the creation of a broad coalition.

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Gay-rights activists praise Obama speech as historic, now urge concrete follow-up actions

NEW YORK (AP) — President Barack Obama's emphatic gay-rights advocacy in his inaugural address thrilled many activists. Yet almost immediately came the questions and exhortations as to what steps should be taken next.

"I was very moved," said Jon Davidson, legal director of the gay-rights group Lambda Legal. "But there's a lot more to do in the four years to come. ... It's not like everything is fine."

Items on the activists' wish list include appointment of America's first openly gay Cabinet member, steps to curtail unequal treatment of same-sex couples in the military and an executive order barring federal contractors from workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The paramount priority for many, however, is same-sex marriage. Never before Monday had an inaugural address conveyed support for marriage equality, and activists now hope the Obama administration will take concrete steps to follow up, including escalated engagement in pending Supreme Court cases.

"Why wouldn't they decide to stand on the right side of history?" Davidson asked.

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North Korea warns it will strengthen 'nuclear deterrence' in reaction to UN punishment

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea swiftly lashed out against the U.N. Security Council's condemnation of its December launch of a long-range rocket, saying Wednesday that it will strengthen its military defenses — including its nuclear weaponry — in response.

The defiant statement from North Korea's Foreign Ministry was issued hours after the Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution condemning Pyongyang's Dec. 12 rocket launch as a violation of a ban against nuclear and missile activity. The resolution, which won approval from Pyongyang's ally and protector China after drawn-out discussions, also expanded sanctions against the North.

In Pyongyang, the Foreign Ministry maintained that the launch was a peaceful bid to send a satellite into space, not a test of long-range missile technology. But now, North Korea will "counter the U.S. hostile policy with strength, not with words," the ministry said, ominously warning that North Korea will "bolster the military capabilities for self-defense including the nuclear deterrence."

The wording "considerably and strongly hints at the possibility of a nuclear test," analyst Hong Hyun-ik at the private Sejong Institute think tank near Seoul said Wednesday.

A nuclear test would fit into a familiar pattern of defiance in Pyongyang. In 2006 and 2009, North Korea followed up rocket launches just weeks later by testing atomic devices, which experts say is necessary for development of nuclear warheads.

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AP IMPACT: Middle-class jobs cut in recession feared gone for good, lost to technology

NEW YORK (AP) — Five years after the start of the Great Recession, the toll is terrifyingly clear: Millions of middle-class jobs have been lost in developed countries the world over.

And the situation is even worse than it appears.

Most of the jobs will never return, and millions more are likely to vanish as well, say experts who study the labor market. What's more, these jobs aren't just being lost to China and other developing countries, and they aren't just factory work. Increasingly, jobs are disappearing in the service sector, home to two-thirds of all workers.

They're being obliterated by technology.

Year after year, the software that runs computers and an array of other machines and devices becomes more sophisticated and powerful and capable of doing more efficiently tasks that humans have always done. For decades, science fiction warned of a future when we would be architects of our own obsolescence, replaced by our machines; an Associated Press analysis finds that the future has arrived.

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Authorities: NM teen accused of killing family reloaded rifles, planned Wal-Mart shootings

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — For at least a week, authorities say, 15-year-old Nehemiah Griego had been planning the attack.

After shooting his mother and three siblings in their beds, he ambushed his father as the pastor returned home from an overnight shift at a homeless shelter. Then the teen reloaded the family's rifles.

His plan was to randomly shoot people at a Wal-Mart on Saturday, which happened to be "Guns Across America" day, until he could be killed in a shootout with law enforcement, according to authorities.

He also contemplated killing his 12-year-old girlfriend's parents, Bernalillo County Sheriff Dan Houston said Tuesday.

And while Griego loaded guns and ammunition into the family's van, Houston said, it was unclear whether the teen did go to a Wal-Mart or how seriously he contemplated continuing his rampage on the same day that thousands of gun advocates gathered peacefully at state capitals around the country to rally against stricter limits on firearms.

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Pa. ex-pastor convicted of murdering 2nd wife in '08 now faces trial in 1st wife's '99 death

STROUDSBURG, Pa. (AP) — A former Methodist clergyman convicted of bludgeoning his second wife to death in 2008 now faces trial on whether he killed his first wife, too.

Arthur Schirmer was convicted Tuesday of first-degree murder and evidence tampering after a jury in the Poconos concluded he clubbed Betty Schirmer on the head with a crowbar, then loaded her into their PT Cruiser and staged a low-speed accident in an effort to conceal the crime.

The former preacher, 64, was motionless as the jury returned its verdict 90 minutes after getting the case, and said nothing while being led from the courtroom in handcuffs.

The conviction of a man whom prosecutor Michael Mancuso had dubbed the "sinister minister" brought cries and tears of joy from the family of Betty Schirmer, 56, who suffered mortal brain injuries after prosecutors say he attacked her on July 15, 2008.

"Today, she can finally rest in peace," said her son, Nate Novack, who thanked prosecutors for "bringing my mom's killer to justice."

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3 hurt as gunfire at Houston-area college sparks evacuations, fears of another campus massacre

HOUSTON (AP) — Luis Resendiz hid quietly in a small room with dozens of classmates after gunshots erupted in a courtyard on his college campus north of Houston.

There his mind quickly drifted to last month's Connecticut elementary school massacre that left 20 children dead, wondering if another gunman was on a rampage on the other side of the door.

"I didn't think something like this could happen," said Resendiz, 22, who crouched in the room for about 20 minutes before being allowed to leave. "You don't think about it happening to you."

A volley of gunshots about noon Tuesday at Lone Star College prompted a lockdown and eventual evacuation of the campus in north Houston. In the end, three people were hospitalized, including a maintenance worker caught in the crossfire and two others who authorities believe were involved in the gunfire.

Late Tuesday, Harris County sheriff's officials said Carlton Berry, 22, had been charged with aggravated assault in the shooting. Berry remained hospitalized, the officials said. The conditions of the other person involved in the shooting and maintenance worker were not available.

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Serena Williams loses to Stephens to end 'worst 2 weeks'; US teen to play Azarenka in semis

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Serena Williams was only thinking out loud when she muttered that this Australian Open had been "the worst two weeks."

Not long after a courtside microphone picked up those comments during her quarterfinal with 19-year-old American Sloane Stephens, things got a whole lot worse.

Stephens outplayed Williams, whose movement and serves had been slowed by a back injury, and beat the 15-time Grand Slam champion 3-6, 7-5, 6-4. It was Williams' first loss since Aug. 17, and her first defeat at a Grand Slam tournament since last year's French Open.

Williams' downer of a Grand Slam Down Under started badly when she turned her right ankle in her opening match at Melbourne Park.

"I've had a tough two weeks between the ankle ... and my back, which started hurting," Williams said. "A lot of stuff."

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